Evening Prayer

The Ninth Sunday after Trinity

Old Testament lesson: Isaiah 28.9-22

Today’s reading may originate in the time of King Hezekiah, who ruled the southern kingdom of Judah from about 715 to 686 BC. Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel, had fallen to the Assyrians in 722 BC and Judah was under threat. The prophet’s relentless message is that the crisis is the result of the people’s serial disobedience and he declares that the religious life of Jerusalem has become debased. This passage comes just after priests and prophets are described staggering drunk through the streets of Jerusalem - they mock Isaiah for offering seemingly simplistic solutions (‘precept upon precept’ … ‘line upon line’). Isaiah replies that YHWH, the Lord, will speak to them ‘with an alien tongue’ (possibly a reference to the threatening Assyrians). There is an interwoven theme of hope in an oracle of salvation, promising YHWH’s lasting protection of Jerusalem, in references to, for example, ‘a precious cornerstone’ and a plumbline of justice and righteousness. However, the prophet warns that YHWH as ‘divine warrior’ (normally expected to fight on Israel’s behalf) could turn on his own people (‘the overwhelming scourge’), by using invaders as his instrument of punishment, to annul the people’s ‘covenant with death’ and ‘sheol” (meaning the underworld).

New Testament lesson: Matthew 20.1-16

This reading is the well-known parable of the labourers in the vineyard. Unique to Matthew, it challenges conventional ideas of just reward. The labourers hired early in the day agree with the landowner to work for the usual daily rate. But those who have worked for only a couple of hours get exactly the same (to the annoyance of the others). The landowner (God) has been entirely faithful to his promises. God transcends conventional expectation (and, therefore, human presumption). The less deserving, by the world’s criteria, may receive as much as the apparently deserving. Salvation is open to those who respond to Christ, albeit late in the day.